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“When The Action Ends, The Cameras Will Depart”: In Ferguson, As Elsewhere, Voting Is What Matters

In covering the violence engulfing Ferguson, Missouri, media routinely cite the following numbers to explain the frustration of the minority community there:

Ferguson’s population is two-thirds African-American, yet the mayor, five of the six City Council members and nearly the entire police force are white.

But there are other numbers. In the municipal election held last year, 52 percent of the voters were white — in a city, to repeat, that is 67 percent black.

The first set of numbers is related to the second.

Clearly, what we are calling a minority population is a majority. If most of Ferguson’s eligible African-American voters feel that the city government treats them unfairly, they have a simple remedy: They can elect a different city government.

Black city leaders have made this case, but their message has been lost in the drama of downtown burning and looting. Chaos afflicted this city in August after a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American. Chaos has descended again after a grand jury declined to indict the officer involved.

In between was a midterm election, in which only 42 percent of registered Ferguson voters turned out to cast ballots for the powerful office of St. Louis County executive. This participation was actually 10 percentage points below that of the previous midterm in 2010.

In the midterm elections nationally, blacks, Latinos, young people, single women and other generally progressive voting groups failed to show up in large numbers. Older white people did.

Of course, calls for civic participation are hard pressed to compete for attention with the world’s news cameras looking for excitement. The Ferguson rioters — a crowd no doubt swelled by opportunists of all variety — are not leaving much to save. When the action ends, the cameras will depart.

The purpose here is not to second-guess the grand jury’s decision. There were highly conflicting witness reports of what happened.

Nor is the purpose to advocate voting along racial (or ethnic) lines. Voters will ideally cast their ballots for candidates deemed most capable of serving their needs.

Nor must a police force perfectly reflect the racial makeup of a population, though, it must be said, Ferguson’s imbalance seems extreme. But again, Ferguson’s black community can change this situation by electing officials sensitive to their concerns.

It’s true that Ferguson’s municipal elections schedule doesn’t encourage turnout. These elections take place in April, far from the traditional voting day in November. They also occur in non-presidential years, when turnout by minorities and young people traditionally drops. In the most recent municipal election, only 12 percent of registered voters — white, black or otherwise — cast ballots. Voters can change those dates.

This poor showing frustrates civic-minded African-Americans advocating change in a normal, nondestructive way.

“Every time there’s an election, we have to show up,” Patricia Bynes, a local black Democratic official, told Reuters. “I don’t care if we are voting what color the trash cans are. We need to show up.”

At Brown’s funeral, a family member called on mourners to make themselves heard at the polls. But only 204 residents of Ferguson registered to vote from the time of the fatal shooting to the Oct. 8 registration deadline for voting this year — only 204 in a city of 21,000 people.

And as pollsters keep reminding us, what determines the end result isn’t how many people register to vote. It’s how many registered voters actually come to the polls on Election Day.

This can’t be said often enough. The power that matters in Ferguson — and everywhere else — is exercised in the voting booth.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, November 27, 2014

November 28, 2014 Posted by | Elections, Ferguson Missouri, Local Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Racism: It’s The Law”: American Institutional Racism Conceals Itself From Those Who Prefer Not To See It And Aren’t Victimized By It

Smoke and fire, sirens blaring, horns honking, a sudden hail of bullets. This is what passes for the American dialogue on race and justice.

It’s hidden until it explodes.

“By 10 p.m., a St. Louis County Police squad car burned just down the street from the Ferguson Police Department, with spare ammunition ‘cooking off’ or exploding in the car,” the Wall Street Journal informed us.

Those who want to shake their heads in disgust can do so. American institutional racism conceals itself so neatly from those who prefer not to see it and, of course, aren’t victimized by it. And then every so often something sets off the public trigger — an 18-year-old young man is shot and killed by a police officer, for instance — and the reality TV that is our mainstream news brings us the angry, “violent” response, live. And it’s always one side against another, us vs. them. It’s always war.

“But what is justice in a nation built on white supremacy and the destruction of black bodies?” Mychal Denzel Smith wrote in The Nation the day after the grand jury announced that police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted. “That’s the question we have yet to answer. It’s the question that shakes us up and makes our insides uncomfortable. It’s the question that causes great unrest.”

What is justice, indeed? And beyond that question are the real questions, perhaps unanswerable. What is healing? What is peace?

If the officer had been indicted for Michael Brown’s killing and then convicted on one charge or another, maybe that would have been justice, in a “case closed” sort of way. In our limited legal bureaucracy, “justice” means nothing more than punishment. Even when such justice is done, it changes nothing. The state’s “interest” has been satisfied, and that’s all that matters. The terrible loss suffered by parents, friends and community would remain a gaping wound. And beyond that, the social brokenness and racism that caused the tragedy in the first place would remain unaddressed, unhealed.

But not even that minimal justice was in the cards for the loved ones of Michael Brown or the occupied community in which he lived — because that’s not how it works. Officer Wilson, whatever he did inside or outside the state’s rules on the use of lethal force when he confronted Brown on the afternoon of Aug. 9, was just doing his job, which was controlling and intimidating the black population of Ferguson. He was on the front line of a racist and exploitative system — an occupying bureaucracy.

The New York Times, in its story about the grand jury’s decision, began thus: “Michael Brown became so angry when he was stopped by Officer Darren Wilson on Canfield Drive here on Aug. 9, his face looked ‘like a demon,’ the officer would later tell a grand jury.”

This sort of detail is, of course, of immense value to those who sympathize with the police shooting and accuse the black community of endemic lawlessness. See! Michael Brown wasn’t just a nice, innocent boy minding his own business. He and his companion were trouble incarnate, walking down the middle of the street spoiling for a fight. He was Hulk Hogan. The cop had no choice but to shoot, and shoot again. This was a demonic confrontation. Politeness wouldn’t have worked.

If nothing else, such testimony shows the stark limits of our “who’s at fault?” legal system, which addresses every incident in pristine, absurd isolation and has no interest beyond establishing blame — that is to say, officially stamping the participants as either villains, heroes or victims. Certainly it has no interest in holistic understanding of social problems.

Taking Wilson’s testimony at face value, one could choose to ask: Why was Michael Brown so angry?

Many commentators have talked about the “anger” of Ferguson’s black community in the wake of the shooting, but there hasn’t been much examination of the anger that was simmering beforehand, which may have seized hold of Brown the instant the police officer stopped him.

However, an excellent piece of investigative journalism by Radley Balko of the Washington Post, “How municipalities in St. Louis County, Mo., profit from poverty,” which ran in September, addresses the issue head-on. He makes the point that local municipal governments, through an endless array of penny-ante citations and fines — “poverty violations” — torment the locals for the primary, or perhaps sole, purpose of keeping their bureaucracies funded.

“Some of the towns in St. Louis County can derive 40 percent or more of their annual revenue from the petty fines and fees collected by their municipal courts,” Balko writes. The fines are mostly for traffic offenses, but they also include fines for loud music, unmown lawns, “wearing saggy pants” and “vague infractions such as ‘disturbing the peace,'” among many others, and if the person fined, because he or she is poor, can’t pay up, a further fine is added to the original, and on and on it goes.

“There’s also a widely held sentiment that the police spend far more time looking for petty offenses that produce fines than they do keeping these communities safe,” Balko writes. “If you were tasked with designing a regional system of government guaranteed to produce racial conflict, anger, and resentment, you’d be hard pressed to do better than St. Louis County.”

Regarding the anger and resentment in communities like Ferguson, he quotes a longtime racial justice activist, Jack Kirkland, who says, “I liken it to a flow of hot magma just below the surface. It’s always there, building, pushing up against the earth. It’s just a matter of time. When it finds a weak point, it’s going to blow.”

And when it blows, we get to watch it on TV: the flames, the smoke, the rage, the ammo “cooking off.” This is what institutional racism looks like when we finally notice it.

 

By: Robert Koehler, Syndicated Columnist; The Huffington Post Blog, November 27, 2014

November 28, 2014 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Ferguson Missouri, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gov Walker Plans To Celebrate Budget Bill With Felon Until Union Broadcasts Rendezvous

Today, Gov. Scott Walker will sign the controversial state budget bill into law. He was originally scheduled to sign his budget at Badger Sheet Metal Works, a private business operated by a man with six felony tax convictions, in Green Bay, at 2 p.m. on Sunday. However, now that Gregory A. DeCaster’s tax troubles have been publicized, the governor’s office has announced a new locationfor the ceremony: Fox Valley Metal Tech, also in Green Bay.

“While Mr. DeCaster has served his time in jail and paid his debt to society, it is fitting that the governor would choose to sign this budget at a business owned by someone who was once convicted of the felony of tax evasion,” said Marc Norberg, a Wisconsin native and assistant to the general president of the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association.

Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch said something quite similar earlier in the day when he told WisPolitics, “Green Bay, and certainly the company that we’re going to, reflects really what this budget and what Gov. Walker’s first term here is all about.”

Will the budget bill be a job creator?
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Walker chose to sign the budget at a manufacturer “to emphasize the budget’s focus on job creation.”

Gov. Scott Walker boasted that his budget proposals and other controversial policies have created 25,000 jobs in Wisconsin since the start of the year at a discussion led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday in Washington, D.C.

CMD contacted the Center for Wisconsin Strategy, a field laboratory for high-road economic development in the state for a bit of perspective on this spin.

“While we don’t think the governor has that much ability to affect overall employment … to the extent that he has, he has arguably hurt the state,” said Sam Munger, managing director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy’s Center for State Innovation.

Munger said a significant amount of provisions in the budget will end up destroying the quality of jobs that currently exist.

According to a recent Center of Wisconsin Strategy report, the 8 percent wage cut Walker issued to the 380,000 jobs under his control could cost Wisconsin about 22,000 additional jobs, “because families that rely on the income from their public-sector jobs will have less to spend in their local communities.”

“If you look all the way through the budget … his primary motivation has not been keeping jobs, it’s been remaking the state as a corporate welfare haven,” Munger said, citing Walker’s refusal of federal stimulus money and federal broadband money and his refusal to engage the state in other job-generating projects, while rewarding the wealthy and corporations with a range of tax breaks.

The budget’s cuts to municipalities will suck money out of localities, Munger said, adding that pulling money out of circulation will cost jobs in an indirect or induced way. In contrast to the rosy news coming from the Governor’s mansion, the most recent data from the Department of Workforce Development shows that unemployment increased in most Wisconsin cities in the month of May. The report shows that unemployment rates increased in 25 cities with a population of 25,000 people or more, with only Stevens Point experiencing a slight drop, from 7.9 percent to 7.8 percent.

Other budgetary measures that Munger said threaten job quality are cuts to childcare subsidies for working parents, making it more difficult to obtain unemployment insurance and rolling back child labor laws.

“Everything that he has done in the budget that related to jobs or employment has either killed jobs, destroyed the quality of jobs or been a giant giveaway to corporations,” Munger said.

 

By: Jessica Opoien, Opinion Writer, Center For Media and Democracy, June 26, 2011

June 26, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Corporations, Democracy, Economy, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Government, Governors, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Labor, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Tax Evasion, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Union Busting, Unions, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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